Trying to sound wise about another country’s politics is usually a fool’s game, and from this side of the Atlantic it looked like Boris Johnson had a lock on becoming the next prime minister in London. He was the face of the successful effort to pry Britain from the moldy clutches of Europe, and who could stop him?
Well, the French, as they always do, have a word for it. Or in this case, three words: “Chercher la femme,” or, “when trying to resolve a mystery, look for the woman.”
Mr. Johnson, who served two successful terms as the mayor of London, clearly wanted it. Who wouldn’t? Shouldn’t every little English boy (and some from Wales and Scotland, too) dream of growing up to live at No. 10 Downing Street? In the wake of the stunning referendum sending Britain out to be Great Britain again, he and Michael Gove, the other leader of the Leave campaign, would be the dream ticket.
So Britain was stunned again when Mr. Johnson agreed there should be a new neighbor on Downing Street, “but that person won’t be me.” He didn’t say why, and the guessing began. When someone got an errant email, sent by his wife and intended for Mr. Gove’s eyes only, it blew up the dream ticket. He could support Boris Johnson, his wife tried to tell him, but “Do not concede any ground. Be your stubborn best. GOOD LUCK.” She spared him an exclamation point but the capital letters were all hers.
The moral here, for politicians everywhere, is that wives and emails can be a deadly mix. No state secrets were exposed, in part because the wife, Sarah Vine, doesn’t have any. She’s a columnist for the Daily Mail, and gossip is harmless stuff next to a nation’s state secrets pilfered by hackers for a competing foreign power. Moral No. 2 for politicians: Beware of newspaper columnists, no matter what they say their interests are different from yours.
Sarah Vine, like most columnists, has views on and ideas about almost everything, and likes to spill tidbits from her marriage in the Daily Mail. She describes how her husband went to sleep at 10:30 p.m. on the day of the referendum, while votes were still being counted and the vote was getting close. The result of the Brexit vote, she wrote in the errant email, “means he — we — are now charged with implementing the instructions of 17 million people.”
We? The revealing pronoun recalls Tonto’s famous remark to Lone Ranger, who looked at angry Indians to the right and angry Indians to the left, Indians ahead and Indians behind, and said: “It looks like we’re surrounded, Tonto.” The faithful sidekick shook his head. “Where you get this ‘we’ stuff, white man?” This might have been the glimpse of the future that Boris Johnson got, and he decided, like Tonto, that he didn’t want any of that we stuff, either.
Now there’s a second la femme in the game, with no we stuff. Theresa May, the home secretary — there’s no equivalent in America, with its federal system of 50 states, but the home secretary runs the home front, sort of — has filed to succeed David Cameron as the chairman of the Conservative Party, and as prime minister when he steps down in October, as promised.
She voted “Remain” in the referendum, but embraces the result with emphatic finality. “Brexit means Brexit,” she says, “and there won’t be any attempt to return by a back door.” Trying to undo the result would be a profound betrayal, but betrayal is not always regarded as profoundly bad by the political class everywhere.
Both Michael Gove and Theresa May, regarded as the top two of the four candidates working for a party decision this week, are tough on immigration, the emotional issue that drove the referendum. She says the supposed benefits of mass (and uncontrolled) migration are “close to zero,” and that it’s mass migration that is threatening Britain’s cohesion.
Mr. Gove, who hit the immigration hardest of all the leaders of the Leave campaign, is the counter-extremist hawk with the hardest beak. In his book, “Celsius 7/7” a decade ago, he warned of “the widespread reluctance” to acknowledge and scrutinize the nature of the radical Islamic threat in Britain. He stresses Britain’s links to the world beyond Europe. He speaks of Britain “taking its place alongside countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand and America as a self-governing democracy.” English-speaking all, with unapologetic Anglo-Saxon roots, as the French have no doubt taken note.
Neither front-runner would likely find Barack Obama a congenial partner, but Mr. Obama will soon be dispatched to history, so that won’t matter at all. The special relationship is on schedule for restoration.